Passing your driving test and getting your licence is an exciting new step towards independence, but the prospect of actually getting on the road as a new driver can be nerve-wracking. One in five new drivers in the UK are involved in a crash within a year, so even if you’ve meticulously studied The Highway Code, there’s still some room for improvement. Here are five tips to help prepare you for adventures on the open road, as a confident and skilful driver with an awareness of the potential dangers.
- Get comfortable in the car first
When you’ve got a shiny new car, the temptation can be to jump in and start driving right away. However, it’s important to have a level of familiarity with the vehicle and make sure you’re properly comfortable in it. Ensure the seat is adjusted to your height and that you can see clearly out of all mirrors with no blind spots. Your car is likely to be different to the one that you learned in, so you should take the time to get to know it before you hit the road. And even though the instructor is no longer there to bug you, remember to fasten your seatbelt!
- Avoid distractions
Driving requires multitasking and concentration is crucial, especially if you’re an inexperienced driver. The mental effort required to talk or process other disturbances can hinder your reaction time and ability to focus on the task at hand. Remove any distractions that could clutter your mind, and turn off the radio. It’s also important to put away your phone, as it’s illegal to use a handheld phone while driving! While many young car owners are coerced into becoming a taxi service for their friends, the last thing new drivers need are overenthusiastic passengers pressuring them to drive irresponsibly.
- Drive smoothly
Smooth, composed driving is what distinguishes an experienced and deft driver. Learn not to jerk your wheel around, and make seamless adjustments whether you are turning or driving straight ahead. Increase speed slowly, and avoid the urge to slam the accelerator down as soon as the light turns green. It’s also important to use your brakes gently; if you see a red light or stop sign ahead, begin applying gradual, steady pressure. Smooth driving is not only more controlled, but it also prevents undue stress on the car, reducing wear and tear and fuel usage. It also keeps any passengers – your parents in particular – happy and comfortable.
- Use defensive driving
Aggressive drivers cause a third of all traffic crashes, and while you can’t predict the actions of other motorists, you can control how you react to them. Defensive driving techniques help you to steer clear of potential dangers; for example, by leaving enough space between your car and the vehicle in front to give yourself a reasonable reaction time. Remain observant and anticipate problems, but don’t make unwarranted assumptions; just because a vehicle is indicating a certain way, this doesn’t mean they will actually make the turn. If you’re concerned that another driver is aggressively speeding, tailgating or erratically drifting, don’t be afraid to pull over.
- Ease into it
Contrary to popular advice, you don’t need to plunge yourself into the deep end as a new driver. This may be a good idea for some activities, but when driving, you’re responsible for your own safety and the safety of others, and no one expects you to be Lewis Hamilton right out of the gate. Practice on your own when the roads are quiet and stick with familiar routes so you don’t have to concentrate on navigation. During your first few times out on the road try to avoid driving in adverse weather conditions, particularly snow and ice which reduce wheel traction.